What are rhetorical questions and should I be using them?

Believe it or not, you use rhetorical questions daily. Learn how to use them in the right way

What are rhetorical questions and should I be using them?

Believe it or not, you use rhetorical questions daily. But, being able to harness them in the right way, will make your writing better than ever before!

What is a rhetorical question?

A rhetorical question is a literary technique used by writers for dramatic effect or to make a point. Unlike a normal question, they do not intend to be answered directly. Instead, they are used as a persuasive device to shape the way an audience thinks about a certain topic.

Why should you use them in your writing?

Rhetorical questions are a powerful but often underutilized technique that can add diversity and flair to your writing. They can explain or pinpoint something to the reader without explicitly saying or writing it. This added complexity forces the reader to engage, consider, and hypothesize about what they have read. This in turn creates a dramatic effect, making your writing much more entertaining to the reader.

To get the most out of your rhetorical questions, read them out loud to make sure they evoke the effect you intended, whether that be revealing the unknown, making a point or subtly influencing the reader.

Where and when can they be used?

Rhetorical questions can be used in most types of writing. Let's consider some examples.

They can be used to reveal a character's perception of the world without explicitly saying it. See the example below:

"What has the world come to?"

Without directly saying that the character is upset by the state of the world, it forces the reader to piece this together themselves.

By using a rhetorical question with an intended answer, the speaker can engage the audience through a common experience.

Do you hate doing the dishes? Then, I've got a solution for you!

Sometimes you can answer a question with a rhetorical question if the answer to the first question is seemingly obvious.

"Does Nick like chocolate?", asked Craig.
"Is the Pope Catholic?"

Appropriate use of rhetorical question can be thought-provoking, lead the reader to arrive at a conclusion on their own and potentially have greater impact on the reader.

If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

"The Merchant of Venice" - William Shakespeare

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To learn more about language techniques, check out our articles on Similes and Quotation marks.